VARNA: Fourteen European Union countries announced Monday they are to expel a total of 30 Russian diplomats in a coordinated international response to the nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain.
Germany, France and Poland led the way in Europe with four expulsions each, while across the Atlantic, the White House announced it was throwing out 60 alleged spies and closing the Russian consulate in Seattle.
An EU source said more member states would announce expulsions in the coming days over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the English town of Salisbury earlier this month.
“As a direct follow-up to last week’s European Council decision to react to Russia within a common framework, already today 14 member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats,” EU President Donald Tusk told a news conference in Varna, Bulgaria.
“Additional measures including further expulsions are not to be excluded in the coming days and weeks.”
The move came after British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed fellow European Union leaders at a summit in Brussels to urge them to support Britain’s assessment that Russia was to blame.
The 28 EU states issued a statement saying they agreed it was highly likely Russia was responsible for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4, and ordered the recall of the bloc’s ambassador to Moscow.
Among those nations not following the coordinated action, Austria said it stood behind the recall of the EU envoy but would not take “any national measures” as it wanted to “keep the channels of communication to Russia open”.
The Czech Republic and Lithuania said they would expel three diplomats, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands two, and Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Croatia and Romania one each.
The leaders initially wanted to expel Russian diplomats to the EU, but they are technically accredited by Belgium, where the EU institutions are based, and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was reluctant, a source present at the meeting told AFP.
Senior Belgian ministers involved in security and defence will discuss on Tuesday whether to expel any Russia diplomats. —AFP